Book Review: Plant This! by Ketzel Levine

Reading Plant This!  Best Bets for Year-Round Gorgeous Gardens is like hanging out with an old friend. You talk about your favorite subject (plants!) but there’s also talk of history, poetry, people and places.  There’s weather talk, humor and music (I enjoyed singing ‘Garrya Indiana’).  Small in size, this book is only 6 1/2 by 8 inches.  Easy to tote around, tuck into a bag or carry out to the garden.  I like small books, they’re so convenient.   Published in 2000 by Sasquatch Books, Levine has chosen 100 of her favorite plants:  “some that looked cool and some my heart went out to, plus those I found either sexy, profound, or irrepressibly optimistic” she writes.  Optimistic?  Maybe that’s why I like plants; to me they’re all optimists.  Starting out tiny, able to withstand cutting and hacking and relying on a distant star for sustenance.  Absolutely optimistic.

Divided into plants of seasonal interest, there’s no need to read from beginning to end.  Just open up and dig in!  Stuck in winter?  Find some intriguing plants that add beauty like the fragrant Chimonanthus (wintersweet) or the richly textured Cryptomeria (Japanese cedar).  Need a spring start?  Enjoy the “simple, joyous flowers” of  Halesia (silverbell tree) or the exotic Pleione (Chinese crocus orchid).  Summer suggestions include the Oregon native Sidalcea (false mallow) and “wafting, weaving and waving” Stipa (giant feather grass).  Autumn choices add the fabulous fall foliage of Rhus (sumac) and the elegant Schizostylis (scarlet river lily).  Each season has a wide selection of familiar and not so familiar, drawing from shrubs, trees, perennials, grasses, vines and bulbs.

As much as I live to learn about new plants, it’s almost more fun to find some hidden treasures among the old familiars.  Take Fuchsias for example.  Levine writes “But if I had room for only one fuchsia, it would be the Mexican shrublet ‘Isis’…so breathlessly subtle with its bite-size foliage and flower, you’ll want to site it up close to know it’s there.  An easy mingler among perennials with its strongly vertical, irregular shape, ‘Isis’ can flower in August and then again in December, with the tiniest imaginable sparks of fire on the bravest of all plants.”  Most of her plant descriptions are made of such stuff.  Entertaining and educational, they leave me wanting.  Wanting to see, wanting to grow, wanting to touch and to smell every plant in this book!

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